‘Beliebers’. The word alone makes you sick in your mouth a bit, and that’s before you even see the masses of Abercrombie and Fitch-wearing teen and tweenage girls, screaming about a questionably-coiffured 17 year-old Canadian boy. It’s hard not to be moved by poetic lyrics such as ‘baby, baby, baby, ohhh. Like, baby, baby, baby, nooo’, and presumably this is how Justin Bieber has acquired nearly 10 million followers on Twitter and 11 nominations for the 2011 Billboard Music Awards. In short, Bieber Fever has taken the world of the teenage girl by storm. You are showing your age if you haven’t seen Bieber’s 3D documentary Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, and perhaps this is why he incurs the wrath of the non-Beliebers. Like Hitler and George W. Bush before him, Bieber’s Wikipedia page is padlocked due to the high levels of vandalism it has suffered from, whilst one group of haters famously hijacked a vote asking where he should visit on his world tour, with North Korea winning.
Critics of Bieber may sniff at his age, youth and popularity, and say they will all fade with time, until he is nothing more than a slight childhood memory, like Hanson or Atomic Kitten. Maybe, or maybe not. The fact that Donny Osmond is still in the public domain is testament to the fact that some people never quite get over their youthful infatuations. Back in primary school, the rotund shiny-faced school nurse was still completely enamoured with Cliff Richard, years into her middle age. We would rush in from the playground with our grazed knees and elbows, and leave the welfare office feeling queasy, having been forced to stare at half naked pictures of Cliff, white-toothed and brown-torsoed, whilst Ms Fellows applied antiseptic to our war wounds. It wasn’t simply a case of a few posters tastefully mounted above filing cabinets either, it was a shrine covering an entire wall, made up of both official and unauthorised Cliff calendars from throughout the eighties and nineties, along with tour adverts and other assorted merchandise: a lesson to all of us that we must one day grow out of our Boyzone crush, or face the consequences.
‘Beatlemania’ is a word often bandied about when talking about hysterical fans. The word even features in the Oxford English Dictionary, indicating just how widely the band and their fans affected British culture. Whilst the idea of being followed by leagues of adoring fans must have been exciting at first, the Beatles are a perfect example of just how thin the line is between super fan and stalker. In the space of a fortnight in December 1999, George Harrison was the victim of two stalker break-ins; the first at his Hawaiian estate, where the burglar helped herself to some frozen pizza, the second a far more sinister attack, where an assailant, apparently ‘sent by God’, broke into the singer’s Oxfordshire home, and proceeded to stab him seven times with a kitchen knife, before Harrison’s wife intervened and hit the intruder with a lamp. Mark Chapman is possibly the most famous celebrity stalker, having murdered John Lennon just hours after meeting him and his family.
Whilst phenomena such as Beatlemania and Elvis Presley tend to be credited with the birth of the wild adulation of musicians, perhaps the first instance of such devotion actually dates back to the Hungarian pianist and composer, Franz Liszt. Throughout the mid-1800s, ‘Lisztomania’ swept through Europe. An eccentric and highly expressive performer, Liszt was a sort of rock star pianist oozing sexual magnetism as he swished his long hair about whilst hammering the piano keys, causing his audiences to go wild. Female fans were particularly enthusiastic, with one particularly keen lady rescuing one of Liszt’s discarded cigar butts from the gutter, and having it encased in a diamond encrusted locket. Other instances of Lisztomania include women collecting the musician’s coffee dregs and turning Liszt’s broken piano strings into bracelets.
So what causes people to become so enthusiastic about their favourite musicians? It seems that the majority of idolised musicians are male, with large female followings, who either want to be their wife or their mother, or possibly both. Whilst peer pressure must be responsible for a chunk of Bieber’s fans, thousands of girls across the globe live with the knowledge that they are the love of Justin’s life, if only he knew. More enticing yet is the image of a troubled rockstar, such as Pete Doherty or Kurt Cobain, needing to be saved by their one true love. This obsession with celebrity and the concept of flinging yourself at a complete stranger is embarrassingly juvenile, however, if a certain Mr Timberlake is reading, and is bored with Hollywood floosies and looking to settle down, he knows where to find me.
*Whilst I would love to take credit for this excellent headline, pats-on-the-back and messages of love should instead be directed to Jon Bauckham, Music Editor of Epigram, who is the true Belieber.
This article is from the final issue of Epigram 2010/11. To read the rest of the Music section, click here.